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Which distro offers the best experience?

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There are hundreds of Linux distributions available worldwide, kitted with an infinite number of kernel/desktop/applications combos, each offering a unique perspective and usage model.

Still, true to the Pareto principle, most of the Linux desktop belongs to a very small number of distributions, including mainly Ubuntu and its derivatives, Fedora, openSUSE, Mandriva, and a few more. Hop over to DistroWatch and see for yourself. So the big question is, what makes these distros so popular, or better yet, preferred over other candidates? Ultimately, which one offers the most complete all-round experience of all?

In this article, I've taken five most popular distributions and tested them one against another across a range of categories, trying to pinpoint the one that suits me best. You will note this is an entirely subjective experiment, completely subjugated to my own taste and need. Nevertheless, I hope my test will still be impartial enough for you to consider it when choosing your distribution.

Let us begin.

A decent, honest review that lacks the details

I'll accept the conclusions he has. Although I prefer Mandriva over OpenSuse, I do feel as if his conclusions are pretty close, and so are his yardsticks. However, I wish he would have gone more in-depth in his individual measurements for each distro and discussed the pros and cons. I guess you have to read the individual distro reviews for that? I'm glad something was, at least, balanced and not drooling all over Mark Shuttleworth's lap.

re: decent honest review

Yeah, Igor is always fair and unbiased. But it should be noted that the Mandriva he's referring to is Mandriva One. Mandriva Free doesn't come with the extra goodies for 3D graphics or streaming multimedia support. Just wanted to mention that for those wishing to test it.

However, Mandriva offers no samba support out of the box. It's kinda a pain every time I review it having to install samba support to get the screenshots to my desktop with the least physical effort. Big Grin But it might be moot since Mandriva didn't win that category anyway.

I don't understand why he thinks Mandriva offers the most unfriendly installer. I always feel (and state) the opposite. In fact, I think openSUSE might have the most unfriendly for the new user.

Also, in the performance category, he strayed off from Ubuntu to Kubuntu - which creates an anomaly. Kubuntu comes with their version of KDE 4 which is known to drag ass. I was curious how Ubuntu might have stacked up in that test.

I had some issues with Mint 8 networking, so I'm interested in his upcoming review of that.

You have some good points. I

You have some good points. I don't have a need for Samba, so I never had to set it up in Mandriva. Some people have criticized the Mandriva installer because of the confusion when partitioning. Also, I believe the One version comes up with the message that it's removing unnecessary drivers, which throws some people.

Ubuntu has a very simple installer, but, it also never gave me the option of not installing their bootloader, wiping my Mandriva bootloader in the process. The automation that Ubuntu seeks also limits user choice.

My biggest problem with OpenSuse is the myriad of repos. They really don't need to sub categorize so much, using separate repos for every little option. Can't they just use a handful of genuinely different repos for the sake of muti-threading the download process, yet just have the rest in the sections of those repos? Why make it such a pain to add so many repos to the package manager? Newbies just have to be completely befuddled with the setup.

I also like how he included my favorite distro of all time, PCLinuxOS, in there, but honestly, it should have been in the main review. It stacks up very well against the others. Also, Arch is a major contender, as well. The review just lacked completeness. I know you can't include every distro, but those two are kind of serious omissions if you ask me. I didn't mind that Sabayon and Debian were left out because they're not really a distro an average user would go for. They're more for specialized users. However, Fedora is also in the same category as they are because it's so unfriendly to setup and use for the average user, as well.

re: good points


Some people have criticized the Mandriva installer because of the confusion when partitioning.

omg, that's one of thing I give it points for - how easy the partitioning step (seems) to be. perhaps I've lost touch with the new new users. hmmm. ...akin to why I can't seem to come up with ideas for howtos or why I made a lousy a teacher.


Ubuntu has a very simple installer, but, it also never gave me the option of not installing their bootloader, wiping my Mandriva bootloader in the process. The automation that Ubuntu seeks also limits user choice.

If you hit the advanced button at that step, I know it has an option where you can set it up to just install on the root partition of the install - that way your main bootloader will remain intact. It may have the option in there to not install at all, but I don't recall right off-hand.


My biggest problem with OpenSuse is the myriad of repos.

Yeah, I agree there.


I also like how he included my favorite distro of all time, PCLinuxOS

I think the reason that distro is falling off lists and users' radar is that development has slowed down - or rather the release of new versions. I understand the repos continue to be updated regularly, but it's hard to recommend downloading the installable CD then tell users to download so many updates, that sometimes can have glitches. I heard rumors PCLOS 2010 is on the horizon, but we'll have to wait and see how that all shakes out. They've lost their momentum, and that's a hard thing to recover.

re: grub 2


Ubuntu's grub2 leads people astray

you got that right. ...them and, by extension, all their derivatives.

some even say they moved to grub2 an attempt to lock out users' other (multi-boot) distros. Even if that wasn't the intension, it was surely a selfish move on their part - not caring. Funny, they'll hang on to some technology until grows wrinkles while updating to others before it's ready and cause so many issues.

There's a bunch of tutorials out there.

I find my own experience similar

I personally find opensuse to be the best of the bunch overall, in terms of desktop.

a close second on desktop, for me, is Debian. Once it is setup the way you want, it's a done deal and there is little in the way of having to re-configure after updates.

mandriva is my third choice for me, but likely a second choice for others who may be intimidated by debian.

re: own experience

I like debian on my server, but I've been using mandriva on my desktop for 3 or 4 months.

Debian requires too much work for me to get it up to pretty and carefree-desktop status. It's just not very complete or pretty out of the box. But for "no gui" purposes, it's one of the best for me.

I stopped using gentoo a while ago. It's binary-only for me from now on. I'm too old and tired these days for source code. Big Grin

I think Mandriva 2010 was the best release of 2009, but like Igor said, they have a history of QA issues and inconsistency. One release may be killer, but the next could be riddled with issues. Mepis tends to be more reliable across releases.

openSUSE is usually like mepis in that regard - always rock stable - until 11.2. I had issues with 11.2. I think that was an anomaly tho because every other release worked well and, I seem to have been the only one - not many other reviews reported obvious slap-you-in-the-face issues.

It's so hard for me to pick a favorite. They all good points and bad points. Mepis seems to have less bad than the others to me. I'm anxiously awaiting the new Mepis 8.5 although I've been tickled as punch with Mandriva.

The best overall experience:

The best overall experience: Arch and Slackware

The best out-of-box experience: PCLinuxOS and Pardus

re: slack!

warm and fuzzies for slack for sure!

yeah, Pardus shows well, but Arch = too much work. Tongue

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